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Change Management Consulting: Your Transformation's Best Friend
Successful leadership isn't about planting your feet in terra firma and holding on for dear life. No, truly successful organizations can pivot and adapt, continually reading the operational tea leaves and making essential changes as needed. Put another way, business success depends on flexibility and staying ahead of the proverbial curve.
But change has a way of injecting fear and foreboding into even the most stoic of leaders, not to mention the people on the frontlines carrying out that change. Thankfully, organizations aren't on their own when it comes to change management, making experienced change management consultants a critical addition to any leader's Rolodex.
Project Management vs. Change Management
To state the obvious, there wouldn't be a need for change management if there wasn't meaningful change to begin with. In other words, leadership doesn't tinker with things just to keep everyone on their toes – the stakes are far too high for such unnecessary skullduggery.
Instead, new initiatives and revamped business processes – your business projects – drive the need for change management. And that brings us to a critical point in this discussion – the subtle but crucial differences between project management and change management, and how they need to work in tandem with each other.
Granted, every firm doesn't separate the two as Embark does, and that's okay. But given how many moving parts are often involved in change initiatives, looking at project and change management as two separate pieces of the same business transformation puzzle usually makes everything more efficient and straightforward.
That said, what's the difference between project and change management, you ask? Let's zoom in on each one to find out.
What Is Project Management?
Project management focuses on the technical delivery of the project itself. The scope of the project, budgetary factors, timelines, and milestones – they all fall within project management's jurisdiction.
Think of project management as the nuts and bolts side of things, getting a little dirt under your fingernails as you identify, implement, and maintain whatever a project entails. However, since our focus today is on change management, we'll point you to some of our previous thoughts on the project side of things with our Open Items Template and Insights for Project Management Bliss.
What Is Change Management?
That brings us to the star of this particular show – change management. While we won't rehash information conveyed in previous musings, Effective Change Management Is Critical for Your People in a Finance Transformation, we still want to discuss how change management fits in with project management and, ultimately, the possible benefits of working with outside specialists.
Simply put, if project management is the nuts and bolts side of things, then change management focuses on the people involved in the change, helping them efficiently and effectively transition to new processes, systems, or whatever else a new initiative might include.
Basically, without effective change management, the chances of your new project driving the value you expect from it are far lower than they would be otherwise. Think of it this way – if everyone has a specific role in a new process, yet your people don't know how to execute those roles or even why the change is important, odds are those "new and improved" processes or systems will actually be slower and less reliable than their predecessors. And that’s not great.
Change Management Best Practices
Thus, change management is just as vital to the process as choosing the right technologies to propel your new initiatives forward. And since it's critical for leadership teams to understand what goes into effectively managing change – even when engaging outside parties – we're going to give you some best practices to get you started.
- Start with stakeholder adoption and achieving buy-in
- Choose a group of internal champions from different levels and teams within your organization, relying on this group as a guiding coalition to advocate for the change and continually rally the troops
- Foster engagement with your people from the get-go, building acceptance and enthusiasm for the project across every stage of its lifecycle
- Identify those impacted by the change early in the process, tailoring your training and communication efforts to make the transition as smooth and painless as possible for them
- Train your people so they can hit the ground running and immediately integrate the new processes or solutions into their everyday tasks
- Run your change management strategy parallel with your project management strategy, ensuring they're in lockstep with each other across every stage of your initiative
- Factor change management costs into the overall project budget from the start, helping you avoid unexpected ROI landmines or uncomfortable conversations with the C-suite on expanding budget needs
- Don't bite off more than you can chew since that's a great way for your people to hit the dreaded change fatigue wall
We could go on and on, but you get the idea – an awful lot goes into a change management strategy. In fact, this already lengthy list of bullet points is just the tip of the iceberg. So, to reiterate, we recommend going through our previous insights on effective change management for a better understanding of everything involved.
What Does a Change Management Consultant Do?
Now that we have our high-level review out of the way, let's turn our focus to the outside change management services we've already referred to several times. For starters, it's probably best to discuss what benefits external consultants bring to the equation, above and beyond what your own people can provide.
First and foremost, any strategies you tackle in-house will inevitably take people away from their day-to-day jobs, essentially splitting their responsibilities between their normal roles and additional roles as change management agents.
Thus, when you engage third-party specialists, you're leveraging their specific experience and expertise in organizational change management rather than asking your astute and motivated team members to put even more on their already crowded plates. Also, speaking of expertise, specialists are daily practitioners of all things change management, giving them unique insights into the psychology of change and informing any strategy tailored to your people, needs, and goals.
Long story short, change management consultants have a lengthy list of methodologies and playbooks – along with professional certifications in the space – to ensure your people are ready, willing, and able to both embrace change and integrate the new technology and processes into their daily activities.
Tips on Choosing the Right Change Management Consulting Firm
Obviously, change management consulting services can potentially help your initiative find immediate traction. However, we're not going to sit here and say every new project requires such specialists. Smaller projects or ones with significant built-in buy-in won't need the same heavy lifting as projects of larger size, scope, and impact.
Likewise, there are certainly instances where, depending on the project, tackling everything internally is more cost-effective. After all, no one understands your culture, vision, organizational structure, and existing systems better than your own people. The point is, there are certain circumstances where using an outside consulting company might not be in your best interest.
Still, if you're walking the transformational change highway with visions of data-driven, automated insights and forward-looking business intelligence in your mind's eye, you're facing a series of initiatives, not a one-off. Naturally, such a continual need only magnifies the benefits of forming an enduring relationship with top change management specialists.
Unfortunately, it also leaves you with a big ol’ question: How do you choose the right change management consultants for your goals, culture, and people? Of course, aside from obvious factors like a firm's track record and years of experience, it's impossible to provide specific advice since every project and organization are different. However, we still have a few handy that, at least at a high-level, can help ensure you choose the right team:
- Make sure an outside party doesn't skimp on the discovery process since genuinely understanding your organization, culture, and people are essential for success
- A third party should be able to scale and flex according to your evolving organizational transformation needs
- It's usually best to engage specialists that have previous experience with any particular solution you might be implementing
- If necessary, choose a group that’s able to design a training strategy for every level within your enterprise, ideally creating training programs and materials you can use in the future, all while utilizing your existing learning management team and tools.
- Since new processes or systems often affect your value and supply chain partners, the right team of consultants will include those critical parties in their overall change management strategy
- A comprehensive change impact analysis should be part of the business consultants' work, using metrics and customized insights to help you gauge who the change will impact and by how much
- Since communication from management will be critical throughout the process, an outside group should help create a communication strategy for you, one that understands town halls, weekly emails, and Slack can only get you so far
- Your ongoing steady state after day-one of the implementation should be another facet of the overarching change management strategy and optimization efforts, helping ensure your operational readiness isn't a one-hit-wonder but, instead, an ongoing strength
We understand this deluge of information might feel overwhelming at first glance. However, our intention isn't to make your eyes glaze over but, instead, to make certain your change management decisions are a brisk breeze behind your operational sales and not an anchor weighing you down. And as always, if you have further questions or would rather just hand your change management duties off to specialists, Embark's transformation and change team is always at the ready.